A quick break combining the big city with lazy days and snorkeling in Krabi on the island of Ko Lanta.
Bangkok - 2 nights
We arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport at about 3pm in the afternoon, and used the airport link and then Skyrail to reach Saladaeng Station, the closest to our hotel.
Pretty convenient until this point, it was evening by the time we reached the station and it was raining quite heavily, so we jettisoned attempts to find our hotel and jumped in a taxi. We were promptly introduced to Bangkok’s gridlock at this point, and what is actually a 15 minute walk turned into about 30 minutes in the taxi (mostly stationary), but we were glad we hadn’t tried to find our hotel in the dark. Even so time was ticking – we had dinner reservations!
We checked into our apartment at Baan K – a great hotel, we were upgraded to a one bedroom apartment which was beautiful and looked very new. We had time for a quick freshen up before we headed out to Nahm restaurant at the nearby Metropolitan Hotel.
Only a short walk from our hotel, we were right on time for one of the best meals ever. The Nahm set menu is a great introduction to the restaurant and allows you to sample all the canapés, and to choose one dish from each remaining section of the extensive menu, with helpful staff on hand to help with selection.
The cocktails and canapés were a delicious sign of things to come, and standouts of our meal were a clear soup of roast duck with Thai basil and young coconut; and coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with calamansi limes. All the dishes were incredibly fresh, balanced and delicate. Absolutely one of my favourite meals ever.
The next day we acquainted ourselves with the city – using the Skytrain is easy and in the daytime we discovered it was actually quite simple to find our Saladaeng station through the area’s interesting streets and roadside eats.
We took the Skytrain to the Chao Phraya river and took a ferry to the old quarter of Bangkok, passing the Wat Arun temple and the morning’s river traffic, before disembarking at the stop for the Grand Palace and Wat Pho – the temple complex housing a large golden reclining Buddha. Both sights are set in ample grounds and demand stamina and comfy shoes, even on a mild day.
The reclining Buddha is so enormous, and so enclosed that it is hard to get a good shot of the golden guy – not so the surrounding temples with decorative statues, brightly tiled roofs, and amusing signs warning against non-Thai pickpockets and PDAs.
On the short walk between Wat Pho and the Grand Palace you are bound to be met, as we were, by friendly scammers telling us the Palace was closed. So prevalent are they that loudspeakers frequently let passersby know that the grounds are open every day, morning and evening. And it would be a bummer to miss these fabulous grounds, housing not just the Palace, but several museums and important temples, including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
As we were finishing up at the Grand Palace, it was starting to rain – with ponchos ready we headed off and didn’t get far before finding a cute coffee shop to while away the storm.
We then found a taxi to take us to the next stop on our itinerary that I had read about in our guidebook – the village where bowls are made for monks to collect alms. The bowls are made of eight pieces of metal and we saw the workshops where they were being made. They make a great souvenir and decoration – ours is in the garden.
Our taxi then took us to Jim Thompson’s House – former home and now museum of the American businessman whose main stock-in-trade was Thai silk. The buildings of his extraordinary house, backing onto one of Bangkok’s ‘klongs’ or canals, are original teak Thai houses, brought from different parts of the country and assembled to make one cohesive home in the 1950s.
It is only possible to wander through the main house with a guide, so we presented to the counter straight away to get a timeslot and while we waited enjoyed a lovely meal overlooking the spectacular koi pond and perused the museum shop. The tour was well worth doing – thanks mainly to our lovely guide who was charming and entertaining.
A short wander from Jim Thompson’s house landed us in another world entirely – Bangkok’s retail centre at Siam Square – where a number of huge malls cater to all tastes – local and international designers can be found here though be warned – sizes run small to tiny small!
For dinner we caught up at a local restaurant not far from Baan K and then went for a drink at the rooftop bar at the Banyan Tree – one of Bangkok’s skyscraper-high bars for great views of the city at night.
With just two nights in Bangkok we were really left wanting more – floating markets, the weekend Chatuchak market and more wonderful food are on our (already prepared!) itinerary for next time.
We flew Air Asia on this occasion but note the airline now uses Bangkok’s reopened Don Mueang Airport for lower cost carriers rather than Suvarnabhumi. The airports are located in different parts of the city so bear this in mind and factor in travel time if you are mixing low cost and full service carriers using two different airports and expecting to be able to connect. Details
Our journey to Ko Lanta took longer than we expected. Although the flight from Bangkok to Krabi Airport (the closest to the island) was about an hour, being ‘green’ season, there were no quick speedboat transfers to Ko Lanta. Rather, we took the scenic route which included a rather long drive and two vehicle ferries. Not that it mattered – the hotel had sent a great vehicle to pick us up and the drive was relaxing.
Our stay for three nights was the beautiful Layana Resort on Ao Phra Ae (Long Beach). We rarely stay at resorts, but we got a good deal for the season.
Sadly for families with young children, Layana is an adults only resort, so you might want to stop reading now. Because this really was an almost faultless stay.
Set in delightful ‘tropical paradise’ grounds, the rooms were divine - with fresh tropical fruit replenished daily, and lovely details – right down to the locally made organic insect repellent that I still use at home.
It is a small resort but the facilities are great quality – including the restaurant and bar - I recall a particularly good tom yum cocktail and the biggest prawns I have ever seen. The pool overlooks the beach and is a great spot to lounge around.
The resort offers a number of activities – we joined one other couple for an evening cruise by longtail boat on our first night. The following day we took an island tour which included visits to sea gypsy villages and Lanta Old Town.
The hotel also arranged our snorkeling trip to the Koh Haa group of islands which was a highlight of our trip. It was touch and go as to whether we would be able to join a trip as it was the start of the season and weather dependent, but we were lucky to be on the first boat of the season.
The Krabi region is famous for its spectacular limestone karst formations, and Koh Haa consists essentially of these outcrops, with small beaches and spectacular corals and sea life in the clear, warm waters around them.
Being the first of the season, our boat was a consolidation of a number of diving schools from the island, who were each taking out a couple of divers each. We were snorkeling, as was one other couple and there were divers of all levels – from very advanced to first timers – and everyone was well catered to.
After about an hour of travelling, we pulled into a circle of tiny islands reminiscent of The Beach. The divers disappeared off the back of the boat, then we launched ourselves into the warm, turquoise waters. After a few minutes our focus shifted to underwater to the shallow corals and hundreds of colourful fish.
After everyone slowly returned back to the boat, we had to wait an hour between dives so enjoyed lunch before heading to the second site. The coral was equally spectacular, but the currents proved a little strong for some of the snorkelers at the second location. I’m sure this is not a problem as the season progresses, but if you aren’t a strong swimmer, this would be a trip to consider carefully – and to at least use a life jacket if you are feeling nervous.
Despite the currents, the divers and snorkelers alike seemed pretty happy with the day’s expedition. Divers reported seeing turtles and sharks as well as the cute fish that we also spotted.
On our final night we headed down the road to Time for Lime - a restaurant and cooking school on the beach, where proceeds go to animal welfare on the island. For about 5 hours we learned about Thai ingredients, pounded fresh curry paste, and ate our very own spring rolls, prawn and glass noodle salad, pumpkin soup and Massaman curry. All delicious, but sadly never repeated at home!
Ko Lanta was a great stay – possibly made more so by the fact that we were there off-season as it wasn’t too hot and we often had things – pool, cooking class and so on – all to ourselves. We were exceptionally lucky with the weather though – although we had three sunny days – the previous week it apparently had not stopped raining.